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Former sixth graders stop by to say hi
Our now-retired foreign language teacher has taught in Cambridge long enough that she had the extended Good Will Hunting crew, said Matt Damon was the nicest. Our now-retired science teacher disliked Casey Affleck. They each taught for decades, so they have a deep bench of former students. I’m right around 1000 kids total over my career, so I don’t go as deep. But I still have a plenty of folk who could drop by, and it’s my favorite thing ever. Even if very few have won Oscars. Yet.
A couple girls who never liked me much in sixth grade recently stopped by and were as delighted to see me as I was to see them. I tell the kids on the last day of school, (tomorrow!) that all sins are forgiven when you leave sixth grade; if you come back, you’ll be forever lionized. Maybe I don’t scream as loud as the teacher next door, but I come close. I love welcoming back returning champions!
Sixth grade is the center of my universe, but for the kids it was just 1 out of 12 years. Most want to visit their eighth grade teachers, partly because they knew them when they were the closest to what they’re like today. So it means something extra if someone comes all the way back down to sixth grade to say hi. Some I had relationships with after sixth grade, some Ii haven’t seen much since they were my reponsibility. All are champs.
And yet, sixth graders are now their most seventh grade and annoying: hormonal and moody and rebellious and three days away from summer vacation. I prefer shepherding little kids into their first tastes of tweenage responsibility. so I try to cram in a few last days of joking with kids I like, and I lean heavily on seeing their forebears come back here and there. I’m excited to watch them change the world. Maybe I’ll even try to claim it happened because of my Friday morning dance party. Returning champions are always always welcome.
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Vee to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
A non-native speaker of English started at me blankly when I told him how to spell the town Worcester (WUSS-ter for non-Massholes). Likewise, the English language is full of insane one-off rules that don’t match. Two mice in two houses? Two serfs with two knives? The Blah was low-level grammar police, and I haven’t mellowed since.
And Vee has a substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
On MLK, Jr Day, I like to only listen to Black artists. So for the quarantined Juneteenth, I made a gigantic blues mix and it’s what I now bump each year on the 19th. Streaming has made box sets once out of reach just one click away, so my base was all Chess Boxes: Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. I threw in some 1948 John Lee Hooker (the best John Lee Hooker), Junior Kimbrough, a few others. Then I got restless and added some mixes of key albums in hip hop (PE, Tribe, Gang Starr) soul (James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield), and more. It was a happy Juneteenth, even if I chickened out of making an actual red velvet cake.
My Back Pages
I’ve kept a journal a few times throughout my teaching, and it started with student teaching. From the closing weeks of my “Peabody Journal,” March 9, 2011:
What a fascinating lesson in classroom management. I somewhat lost control of 8Z by myself Tuesday, then tried it under supervision Wednesday, now have another improved crack at it tomorrow. The debriefing discussions were completely fascinating and gave me lots to think about in terms of management.
The main thing seems to be waiting for total silence. I got some techniques today, and I think I’m close to being able to realize them.
Wow, this is the moment I learned that technique? It remains the greatest weapon in my arsenal. I’ve since refined it to cut myself off from talking mid-sentence. For years, kids say, You know Mr. Tobin is mad if he stares at you and doesn’t say anything. Yup!
I think part of Mr. S’s brilliance is that he’s a gifted improviser. He’s learned (or developed) a language of teaching, and then he can phrase things in this language all the time. He also really acts, a lot. Whether it’s through reading to the kids, or play-acting annoyance at their behavior.
Hey, that’s some of that acting I was just talking about! My supervising teacher had a degree in theater and showed me how useful that could be in teaching (see: the previous paragraph). As for the language of teaching, I now am excellent at phrasing things into sixth grade-friendly language. Totally useful for communicating with, say, the plumber. Not that plumbers are stupid, but if I can say it so a sixth grader can understand, anyone can.
I wonder what the other teachers think of me, this odd 35 year-old career-changer. What do they suspect about my reasons for getting into their chosen careers?
Near the end of my student teaching, people asked if I wanted to stick with it and I was like, What? Of course I do! But I’ve seen a few student teachers who made that their start and end. I wanted it, and I wanted to stay.
And man, do I desperately want to get a job at the Peabody. SO BAD. I love everything about it, and anywhere else I go is going to be a total letdown. I like the kids, I like the teachers, I like the philosophy, I like the diversity, I like the hours, I like the structure, I like it all. I also like the flexibility. I want it so so bad. And there’s going to be a spot. And they have to know I want it.
A sixth grade job opened up at exactly the right time, which is the gig I still have. Thanks to a district reorg, we become a different school with mostly different teachers the next year. But the stuff I liked about the school largely remains. From March 18:
In the end, I have to keep reminding myself that most practica do not turn into jobs, and that I was never really expecting to work at the Peabody. It was always a pie in the sky pipe dream. There should continue to be no expectation, and no sourness when it inevitably doesn’t happen. The thing is, I know that in my heart, I believe everything’s gonna just kind of work out like it always used to for me. So I’ll be semi-crushed when it doesn't work out.
My, what a portrait of privilege! I couldn’t force my will on LA, but maybe I didn’t try long enough. And this one of course did work out, as it so often has, and it’s been a good eleven years since. Two more days.